2. Conflict with China could increase
It is difficult to imagine Japan, whose Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have never fired a shot in anger, getting into a war with China. Nevertheless, the paramilitary forces of the two countries are in an intense stare down over the Senkakus (which the Chinese call the Diaoyus), a group of uninhabited -- and basically worthless -- islands off the northeast coast of Taiwan. China is engaging in what amounts to economic warfare against Japanese companies, seemingly with the goal of breaking Japan's will to keep the islands.
While the Sino-Japanese relationship is already fraught, the outlook post-election is dire. The LDP promises not to reduce tensions but to increase them: Its election manifesto calls for studying the permanent basing of "civil servants" on the islands -- a transparent and cheesy bit of word play. Because Japan's constitution forbids the maintenance of armed forces, Japan's SDF are not classified as soldiers and sailors, but "special employment civil servants." Putting these military "civil servants" on the Senkakus would cross a clear red line with China. The LDP manifesto also makes grandiose pledges to defend Japan's lands, seas, and remote islands: In his speeches, Abe calls for the protection of Japan's "beautiful land" and "beautiful territorial waters" from China's depredations.
While Abe takes a hard line, the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) -- Japan's No. 2 or No. 3 party (depending upon the poll) is even more radical. Party leader Ishihara Shintaro jumpstarted this year's row over the Senkakus with his plan, unveiled in Washington, to have the Tokyo metropolitan government purchase three of the islands from a private owner. He has unleashed a constant stream of insults at China, memorably calling it a "thief" intent on stealing Japan's land and wealth.
If the territorial rows were not enough, the LDP is looking to recast the history of Japanese imperialism in a rosier light. It has promised to set up a special commission to promote a revisionist view of Japan's expansion into East Asia, and also vows to review Tokyo's statements regarding its responsibility for World War II and "comfort women."
All the major parties are sprinkled with deniers of the events of Japan's imperial age. For instance, one of the officials of the oddly-named Japan Tomorrow Party (Mirai no To), which champions women's issues, told a delegation of visitors from Nanjing that the 1937 Japanese massacre in their city was not as bad as reported.
Regardless of their views on history, cooperation with the United States is on the agenda of all the major parties. Just prior to the calling of the election in November, the purportedly soft-on-China DPJ asked for a review of the defense guidelines that define Japan's cooperation with U.S. military forces. The Japanese government asks for such reviews only when it is looking to respond to new threats in the region (the last time was in response to the 1994 North Korea nuclear crisis). Given the economic and military rise of China, it is not hard to guess what changes the Japanese government wants to make provisions for this time around.